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March 15th, 2024
Empowering Innovation: Vancouver's Black-Led Startups and Their Path to Success

As Vancouver Startup Week (VSW) marks a huge milestone of a decade, we're honored to shed light on some of the many invaluable contributions of black-led startups to our thriving tech community here in Vancouver. In the spirit of Black History Month, we’re highlighting several visionary entrepreneurs that infuse our ecosystem with diverse perspectives, resilience, and unparalleled creativity.

"From limited access to funding and resources to systemic barriers rooted in historical inequities, the journey for Black founders is often riddled with obstacles - and we all have can a role paving their path"

Here at VSW, we recognize that true innovation grows only when all voices are heard, perspectives are valued, and barriers are taken apart. Black-led startups embody this ethos, completing our community with their unique experiences and forward-thinking visions. In this blog, we delve into stories of companies doing just that - and how we can best champion these companies to shape a future where innovation knows no bounds.

black founder

In the landscape of entrepreneurship, black-led startups encounter their own set of unique challenges hindering growth and success. From limited access to funding and resources to systemic barriers rooted in historical inequities, the journey for black founders is often riddled with obstacles. As we strive for a more inclusive and accessible startup ecosystem, it's critical to understand these challenges and take concrete steps to empower black entrepreneurs:

  • Access to Capital: One of the most significant hurdles faced by black-led startups is access to capital. Studies consistently show that black founders receive disproportionately less funding compared to their white counterparts. According to a survey from Abacus Data, in 2021, only 2% of VC funding in Canada went to Black-led startups; 76% of respondents also responded that they felt their race contributed to a barrier to their success as a founder. This disparity persists despite evidence that diverse teams yield better financial returns. Without adequate funding, black entrepreneurs struggle to scale their ventures and compete in the market. Now more than ever, it’s imperative to recognize the power of diverse teams.

  • Network Disadvantages: Networking plays a crucial role in the startup world, facilitating access to mentors, investors, and potential collaborators. However, statistically black founders often lack access to the same networks as their white peers. Historical exclusion and systemic biases limit their opportunities to build influential connections, hindering their ability to navigate the entrepreneurial landscape effectively.

  • Implicit Bias and Stereotypes: Black entrepreneurs frequently encounter implicit bias and stereotypes that impact how they are perceived by investors, partners, and customers. These biases can manifest in subtle ways, such as assumptions about competence or leadership potential, ultimately affecting investment decisions and business opportunities. Unconscious bias plays a huge role in explaining the slow progress we’re making on moving the needle.

  • Lack of Mentorship and Support: Mentorship and sponsorship are essential for the success of any startup, providing guidance, expertise, and a valuable sounding board for ideas. However, black founders often face a dearth of mentors and support networks tailored to their unique needs and experiences. Such mentorship has been shown to be critical to a founder’s success & a startup’s journey.

Addressing these challenges requires an intentional effort from all stakeholders in the startup ecosystem. Empowering black-led startups is not only a matter of moral responsibility but also a strategic imperative for driving innovation and economic growth. By fostering inclusivity and leveling the playing field, we unlock the untapped potential of diverse entrepreneurs and create opportunities for transformative change, with the potential of effects rippling throughout our VC community:

  • Investing in Diversity and Inclusion: Investors and VCs need to actively seek out and support black-led startups, recognizing the value they bring to the table. By diversifying their investment portfolios and prioritizing diversity within teams, investors can drive positive economic outcomes while promoting equity and fairness in the startup ecosystem - setting important precedent for startups to come, transforming the current culture.

  • Building Supportive Networks: Organizations and industry stakeholders have incentive to establish mentorship programs, accelerators, and networking events specifically tailored to the needs of black entrepreneurs. These initiatives provide invaluable support, guidance, and access to resources, helping black founders overcome barriers and thrive in the startup world - contributing to the growth of diverse teams.

  • Challenging Bias and Stereotypes: Addressing implicit bias and stereotypes calls for ongoing education, awareness, and accountability. Albeit a hard change requiring a paradigm shift, investors, industry leaders, and decision-makers have the opportunity to actively challenge their implicit, unspoken assumptions and biases, and ensure that all entrepreneurs are evaluated based on their merits and potential.

Now, on to delving into the remarkable stories of some pioneering black-led ventures that epitomize the spirit of innovation and drive in Vancouver:

  • Ethos Labs - Anthonia Ogundele: Ethos Labs, under the guidance of Anthonia Ogundele, champions a noble mission of leveraging technology for societal good. With a decade-long legacy, Ethos Labs has been instrumental in bridging educational and opportunity divides, empowering underrepresented communities within the tech sphere.

  • Black Business Association BC - Nerissa Allen: Led by Nerissa Allen, the Black Business Association BC stands as a beacon of economic empowerment, providing invaluable support and resources to black entrepreneurs. Through advocacy and community-building efforts, the association fosters a thriving ecosystem for black-owned businesses to flourish.

  • Bakau Consulting - Cicely Belle Blain: Cicely Belle Blain's Bakau Consulting leads the charge in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion within corporate settings. Through transformative consulting services and advocacy initiatives, Bakau Consulting catalyzes meaningful change, cultivating more inclusive work environments for all.

  • Vancouver Tech Journal - William Johnson: William Johnson's Vancouver Tech Journal amplifies diverse voices and narratives within the tech community, contributing to a more inclusive and representative portrayal of innovation. With a steadfast commitment to spotlighting underrepresented perspectives, the journal fosters a culture of inclusivity and belonging.

- Kasandy - Jackee Kasandy: Jackee Kasandy's Kasandy celebrates African heritage and craftsmanship through its meticulously curated products, fostering cultural exchange and appreciation. By providing a platform for artisans and entrepreneurs, Kasandy enriches our ecosystem with creativity and commerce.

  • Color the Trails - Judith Kasiama: Judith Kasiama's Color the Trails initiative promotes diversity and accessibility in outdoor recreation, inspiring individuals from all walks of life to explore and connect with nature. Through organized hikes and advocacy endeavors, Color the Trails creates pathways for inclusion and belonging in outdoor spaces.

crowd Here at VSW, we believe diverse perspectives are at the heart of innovation and moving the needle within the startup ecosystem

Check out some valuable programs specifically tailored to Black founders to address some unique barriers they face and provide support in their journey to success:

  • e@UBC - Black Advisory Hub (BAH)__: UBC and the CASA Foundation have teamed up to drive innovation and community development. The aim of the BAH program is to provide nationwide services spanning four years, assisting 8,500 entrepreneurs and 750 Black-led businesses, alongside fostering the creation of 175 new businesses and approximately 1,000 jobs. Their collaboration is geared towards facilitating connections with and offering support to BIPOC entrepreneurs within both the UBC community and the wider regional network.

  • Futurprenuer: Futurpreneur's Black Entrepreneur Startup program recognizes and acknowledges the many barriers black founders consistently face, addressing them through access to financing, mentorship and valuable resources to support their success in the startup ecosystem.

  • Black Entrepreneurship Program: The Black Entrepreneurship Program (BEP) represents a collaborative effort between the Government of Canada, Black-led business organizations, and financial institutions. This initiative entails an investment of up to $265 million over a span of four years, aimed at supporting Black Canadian business owners and entrepreneurs in expanding their businesses and achieving sustained success both presently and in the long term.

  • BDC Black Entrepreneur Programs: BDC’s commitment to help address unique challenges black founders face in the startup world include the Black Entrepreneurship Loan Fund (funding of over $250K), Black Entrepreneurship Startup program (financing of 60K + mentorship) and the Black Innovation Fund.

These black-led startups are not just integral for their entrepreneurial endeavors; they are essential for the diversity and vibrancy they bring to our tech ecosystem. Their contributions drive innovation, spur economic growth, and create opportunities for all. As we celebrate VSW’s milestone anniversary, we’re honored to be able to also celebrate those that provide us with a unique lens in our community, enable every voice to be heard, and help embed innovation into the heart of our ecosystem. Remember, we can all be champions in these founders’ journeys, so spread the word about the significance of diversity & inclusion within the startup ecosystem.

Want to take action today? Share this post with your network and initiate discussions on ways we can collectively foster a more inclusive startup environment!

And reminder - VSW is coming up right around the corner on May 31st-June 7th - grab your early bird all-access passes from March 18th - you won't want to miss our epic lineup this year as we celebrate a decade!

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